Introduction
Artistic Public Spheres and the State
I am looking out from my rooftop apartment in Central Havana in
the evening. In every house, television sets project the evening’s
news: ‘‘More Cuban doctors sent to El Salvador and Guatemala,
young Cubans have the highest level of literacy among the young
of all Latin American countries, Cuban athletes sent to Sydney to
represent the gloryof the nation.’’ A fewold men sit nodding off in
front of their tv screens. A housewife, taking a rest from cooking
the evening meal, pauses momentarily in front of the screen and
then returns to her work. But the television is merely background
noise for most of the residents of this barrio. Women stand in the
centerof the street, children on their hips, talking loudly. Men play
checkers with old bottle caps on the sidewalks, kids push each
other down the street in makeshift wooden carts, and old women
sit in doorways, holding their skirts to their knees. After the news
comesthemovieoftheevening,aCubanfilm.Graduallythestreets
becomedesertedandfortwohoursthewholeneighborhoodlaughs
together, cries together, and offers advice to the characters on the
screen. As the sun sets over the Malecón, the city is engrossed in
the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of its screen heroes. Once the
film ends and a matronly woman comes on the screen to talk about
the high level of public health enjoyed by Cubans, the streets fill up
again. Men lean on balconies smoking cigars and arguing animat-
edly, women shout across the balconies to each other as they hang
up sheets, even the dogs engage each other in mock fights.
In Cuba, as in most other parts of the world, ordinary citizens
find that the rhetoric and slogans that issue from official media
and political speeches do not always speak to them in a compell-
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